Clifton Suspension Bridge


The Clifton Suspension Bridge must be one of the most famous and photographed bridges in the world.

It was planned as early as 1753 and was the subject of a number of design competitions.

St Vincents Rock and Hotwells c1756 Thomas Smith


William Turner c1790 Hotwells
Hotwells by William Turner c1790


Painting of Hotwells – c1790

After violent riots against a toll on Bristol Bridge (‘The Bridge’ at that point) in 1793, architect William Bridges unveiled a proposal for a new bridge that would pay for itself. He suggested a structure across the Avon Gorge in the spot where the Brunel-designed Clifton Suspension Bridge now stands. His design was so fantastic and otherworldly that the bridge that was ultimately built seems ordinary in comparison.

The multi-storey arch was to be flanked by six 40-ft storeys of rooms and galleries, containing homes, a granary, corn exchange, chapel and tavern, museums, general market, a library, a nautical school, offices, and stables. It would also feature a stone wharf on the Somerset side

Bridges was convinced the eye-wateringly expensive development would eventually amply repay investors, according to Eugene Byrne, the author of Unbuilt Bristol: The City That Might Have Been 1750-2050. However, it never raised the funds to go ahead.

William Bridges’ original design. Illustration – The Brunel Institute


A digital depiction of architect William Bridges’ 1793 proposal – Produced by Quid Corner


Francis Danby 1822
A painting by Francis Danby in 1822 shows the Avon Gorge from Ashton Meadows before the bridge.


The View from Clifton Down back down the Gorge before the bridge – Painting by Francis Danby

Francis Greenacre Bristol Art Historian
Thomas Telford’s design 1829-30 Watercolour attributed to William West
IK Brunel’s Giant Hole Design December 1830 Watercolour by William West

Building of Brunel’s design started  on 12th June 1831 but was halted by the Bristol Riots later the same year.

PBAN6518, Engraving of the rioters in Queens Square circa 1831


The building stopped again in 1840 this time because of lack of funds.

hotwells 1850 rw
Hotwells 1850 – Reece Winstone


Clifton from Leigh Woods c1850


1851 watercolour showing Clifton-side tower of bridge and the observatory


Suspension Bridge Towers 1851 Dr Brittan Reece Wistone
The two towers in circa 1851 – Dr Brittan

Suspension Bridge Construction

Clifton Suspension Bridge 8 Dec 1864
Nearing completion 8th December 1864 – Reece Winstone


Engraving Gateway to Clifton Suspension Bridge – Being Brunel


Clifton Suspension Bridge – Western Daily Press 1864


Clifton Suspension Bridge C 1865 RW
C1865 – Reece Winstone

A modified Brunel design was then finally built and the bridge opened in 1864. Sadly Brunel was no longer with us as he had died in 1859.

Clifton Suspension Bridge 1920 American Film


Clifton Suspension Bridge – Health and safety…


Black Eagle boiler exploded Clifton Bridge 1 Nov 1866 All seven crew killed – Bristol Museums York Collection 3473
Barque Kilmenny towed in Ballast possibly to load up with steam coal from South Wales – Bristol Museums York Collection 4916

Clifton Rocks Railway

Opened in 11 March 1893 The Clifton Rocks Railway enabled people arriving by train or paddle steamer at the Hotwells Landing Stages to travel up to Clifton.

Alternatively you could arrive at Clifton Bridge Railway Station at Rownham on the Portishead line, opened in 1866, and get the Rownham Ferry across to Hotwells.

Find out more about the Rock Railway at Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society (BIAS)

Clifton Rock Railway s
Clifton Rock Railway – Clifton Entrance


Hotwells Halt by Samuel Loxton 1919 – Bristol Railway Stations, 1840-2005 by Mike Oakley,


Port and Pier Railway 1870s R W
Port and Pier Railway 1870s – Reece Winstone


Hotwell Railway 1898 - RW
Port and Pier Railway at Hotwells 1898 – Reece Winstone


Port and Pier Railway Station pre 1922 R W
Port and Pier Railway Station 1922 – Reece Winstone


Hotwells Rail Station 1890s
Hotwells Railway Station in the 1890s


Port and Pier Railway Station pre 1922 R W
Port and Pier Railway Station pre 1921 – Reece Winstone


Site of Hotwells Railway Station in 2018
Site of Hotwells Railway Station in 2018

Hotwells Railway Station (originally called Clifton ) opened in 1865 and was connected to the port railway to Avonmouth. In 1871 it was taken over by Great Western Railway who connected it to Temple Meads via the tunnel under the Clifton Downs. The station was removed in 1921 to enable the building of the Portway Road.

Hotwells Landing Stages
Hotwells Landing Stages in 2016


Hotwells Landing Stage C1880
Hotwell Landing Stage c 1880 – Reece Winstone


PBAN4298, View of the River Avon taken from the Suspension Bridge. Bratt liner Monica Bratt is passing the Hotwells Pontoon c1963


Hotwells from Clifton Suspension Bridge
Hotwells from Clifton Suspension Bridge


PBA906 Shipping on river showing Suspension Bridge

Vessels -ss “Burrington Combe”, another aft and a Bratt Line ship aft of this. These vessels are dressed up with flags – civic occasion? Repair work under way on the river wall.

PBAN5228a MV Gertrud Bratt being towed by tug Sea Alert, passing under the Suspension Bridge.


ss westward ho hotwells landing stage c1937 rw
SS Westward Ho Hotwells Landing Stage c1937 – Reece Winstone


Bristol Queen at Hotwells Landing Stage 1957 RW
Campbells Bristol Queen at Hotwells Landing Stage 1957 – Reece Winstone

Rownham Ferry c 1875 R W
Clifton Suspension Bridge from Rownham Ferry c 1875 – Reece Winstone


Clifton c1920
Clifton c1920


P & A Campbell Passenger Steamer


Hotwells Paddle Steamer

Bristol - The Clifton Suspension Bridge over the Avon Gorge

speed boat racing avon gorge 1936 rw
Speed Boat Racing 1936 – Reece Winstone


PBA2062 Spring Tide, 18th March 1953. 37ft 9 ins – ‘Lakewood’ inbound.

The Grand Spa Pump Room was opened on the rock above in Clifton in 1894.

Grand Spa Ballroom 1894

Grand Spa Pump Room opened 1894

Alternatively you could arrive at Clifton Bridge Railway Station at Rownham on the Portishead line, opened in 1866, and get the Rownham Ferry across to Hotwells.

Hotwells from Rownham Hill- WH Bartlett-c1840

The Rownham Ferry is known to have operated in 1200.

Old Station Bridge by Steve Daniels
Clifton Suspension Bridge with the plug out September 2020
MV Balmoral Engineer Picture of suspension bridge crossed with London Bridge and Menai Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge ironwork set to be preserved

A city’s famous bridge is set to undergo a major refurbishment project to conserve its historic ironwork.

In April, Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust begins a two-year project to protect the iron chains of Bristol’s famous Grade I listed landmark.

A protective paint system will be used across the chains, latticework and stanchions, which run along the outer side of the bridge’s footways.

The project has been entirely funded through bridge toll collection.

BBC News March 2024